This time of year we have only two really revolutionary options for bucking the ridiculous Christmas fever pitch. You can buy gifts that actually mean something, or buy nothing at all. So for this holiday season, let me offer some suggestions of how to be really radical with your gift-giving (or lack thereof).
Buy Nothing Christmas
I recently learned about Buy Nothing Christmas, sort of an Adbusters-style anti-consumption movement spearheaded by the Canadian Mennonites. They describe it as a "movement to decommercialize Christmas and redesign a Christian lifestyle that is richer in meaning, smaller in impact upon the Earth, and greater in giving to people less-privileged." And even if you do decide to buy some things, they simply recommend that you try to buy locally produced, fairly-traded products in environmentally friendly packaging. "The main aim of this campaign is not to save money (although that can be a side benefit), it's not to slow down the pace of Christmas (although that can be a side benefit), it is to challenge our over-consumptive lifestyle and how it affects global disparities and the earth. So, even though you might buy a few things at Christmas, it's important to think in these global economic terms."
They also offer an interesting Christmas study guide that explores the gifts the Wise Men gave Jesus, the origins of the celebration of Christmas, and some theories about how Jesus would feel about our buying frenzy on his birthday. You don't have to be Christian to see the wisdom of backing off on the commericalization of the season. Download some of their posters and spread the word in your neighborhood.
This year again, I am not buying gifts for my loved ones, but cows. That's right, I said cows. Four-legged, milk-giving ungulates. For the last three years we have participated in a remarkable cooperative effort in Achuapa, Nicaragua to supply the town with enough livestock to keep a sustainable "campesino economy" thriving in the community. So every Christmas, I buy a few cows, name them after my dearest friends, and give them to the villagers in Achuapa.
Since I wrote about this project last year, it has blossomed into an inspirational success story. Read more about it here, or buy someone somewhere in the world a pig or cow or goat yourself from the Heifer Project.
Radios For Peace
I've long been a supporter of Freeplay, the company that manufactures radios and other gadgets that operate on solar and kinetic energy. Now the Freeplay Foundation has spearheaded a campaign in Africa: Radios for the Consolidation of Peace. The project, a partnership between the government of Niger, the UNDP and the Freeplay Foundation, aims to promote peace and stability by encouraging people to exchange their illicit small arms for a wind-up radio. In the poor corners of Niger, a radio can be worth many times as much as a weapon.
Freeplay Foundation executive director, Kristine Pearson recently returned from Agadez in northern Niger, where dozens of illicit weapons were exchanged for radios and then were symbolically burned in a "Flame of Peace" ceremony. The weapons -- which can be traced back to Russian, US, French, Belgian, Italian, German and Egyptian makers -- were then cut up into pieces (below) by the military and can never be used again. Illicit arms flowed into Niger during the Tuareg and Toubou rebellions in the 1990s, and continue to make civil unrest a potentially explosive possibility. This program is already proving to be an effective one, where everyone wins.
So if you need a gift idea, why not buy a Freeplay radio, with the knowledge that some of the money you pay goes quite directly to the cause of peace?
We have a bona fide rock star in our family, and like many independent recording artists, her livelihood depends on word-of-mouth. Tina and the B-Sides (a.k.a Lola and the Red Hots) have just released "The Red Christmas Album," featuring bluesy versions of Christmas classics, including the best "Blue Christmas" I've heard since Elvis himself. And, I am proud to report, some of those groovy background vocals just happen to be by my grandchildren. So support a gifted independent musician and put a little rock and roll in your Christmas celebrations. Click here to buy the record.